The Art of Aliveness with Flora Bowley

Laura and Nikki speak with the amazing Flora Bowley (who Laura met during her Bloom True painting retreat in Bali eight years ago). Flora is an artist, a gentle guide and author of four books, Brave Intuitive Painting, Creative Revolution, Fresh Paint, and The Art of Aliveness.

Blending over 27 years of professional painting experience with her background as a yoga instructor, healer and lifelong truth seeker, Flora’s popular in-person retreats and online courses have empowered a global network of brave painters while creating a new holistic movement in the intuitive art world.

In her latest book, The Art of Aliveness, Flora explores the vast ways in which the principles of creativity can serve as fuel for a more alive and awakened way of living. No paintbrushes required.

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Topics discussed

  • Flora’s Startist story, from her initial realization that she could make a living painting to becoming a full-time artist
  • The process of teaching her first intuitive painting workshop
  • How she was approached for her first book deal
  • The connection between the intuitive painting process and living
  • Getting out of your comfort zone and breaking free from a rut
  • The importance of authenticity
  • Embracing the layers in both art & life
  • Examples of how you can add contrast to your art & life
  • Giving yourself permission… letting your life be art
  • Being committed while open to change
  • Adding aliveness into your everyday
  • How Flora is weaving together her own art practice, courses, retreats and books 
  • Making the in-person Bloom True retreat experience available to everyone at home through REUNITE (begins Aug 4th, 2021!)
  • Flora’s shift towards teaching the concepts from her latest book, The Art of Aliveness
  • Flora’s upcoming retreats in Santa Fe, Morocco, and The Omega Institute in NY
  • A little hello from Flora’s studio companion, Pearl

Laura

0:04
Hi, this is Laura Lee Griffin.

Nikki

0:06
And this is Nikki May, with the Startist Society, inspiring you to stop getting in your own way and start building an art biz and life that you love.

Laura

0:15
We are artists who believe strongly in the power of community, accountability, following your intuition, taking small actionable steps and breaking down the barriers of fear and procrastination that keep you stuck.

Nikki

0:30
Follow along with us on our creative business journey as we encourage you on yours.

Laura

0:38
So Nikki, who are we talking to today?

Nikki

0:41
Today, we’re talking to Liz Kohler Brown. Liz is an artist, designer, author and top Skillshare teacher who has not only 50 plus courses on Skillshare, but also teaches others how to become a course creator. She’s been painting, collaging and drawing since she was old enough to hold scissors and pencils without adult supervision. And she earned an MFA in art in 2013. Since then, she’s been teaching around the world online and in person.

Laura

1:11
Liz, welcome to the Startist Society, we’re so excited to have you here with us.

Liz

1:15
Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Laura

1:18
I know that I’ve taken a number of your different iPad art related classes on Skillshare. And I can attest to the fabulous teacher that you are. You have such a great way of breaking things down into simple steps and helping your students produce fabulous results. But I know that you haven’t always been a Skillshare teacher. Can you share your Startist story with us?

Liz

1:44
Yeah, definitely. I started teaching on Skillshare, I think three years ago. And before that, I was just a traditional teacher. I’ve taught art classes in art studios for adults. I taught kids camps. I taught English as a second language. So I was familiar with teaching and felt comfortable with the whole process of planning classes. But then when it came to doing things online, I just had no idea about microphones, video; all that stuff was new to me. But at the time, my husband and I were living in Thailand, because we had kind of quit our day jobs and said, you know, something has to change. We need to do something different. Whatever it’s going to be we don’t know.

Nikki

2:34
That’s awesome.

Laura

2:35
Yeah, Thailand’s very different, that’s for sure.

Liz

2:38
Yeah. And you know, that Chiang Mai, Thailand, if you all haven’t heard of it, it’s just a great place where things are a little bit cheaper then you’re going to find in most other traveling locations around the world. And it’s also very westernized, so there’s a lot of people from Australia, the UK, so it’s really friendly to foreigners, unlike a lot of places you might go around the world like that, where there’s nothing in English, and it’s hard to get by. So, we’re in Thailand, just trying to figure out how are we going to make money online and make this sustainable? So I was teaching English online one-on-one. And I saw a class on Skillshare by Bonnie Christine, who’s still one of my favorite teachers.

Nikki

3:24
Us too.

Liz

3:25
Yeah, she’s awesome. And it was a screen recording with a voice. And I was like, wow, this is exactly what I do when I teach art classes, but it’s recorded. So why why am I not just recording things and then putting it on the internet. So I just went for it. I was like, I don’t know what I want to teach. I don’t know what my topic should be. But I’ve done a little Photoshop. So let’s do a Photoshop class. So I put it out there, and you know, as a classroom teacher, you’re excited if you get like, 10-15 students in your class, you’re like, wow, a lot of people signed up for my class. And so this class, I put it out there and like four or five people in the first day. I was like, what, who are these people on the internet watching? Who are you? And then the next day, it was like a few more and a few more. And suddenly, I had like 30 people in my class, which if you’re a classroom teacher, you almost never get to 30 like that is just a crazy number for a classroom teacher. And I started to realize like, this could be crazy. Like, if you keep producing classes and people keep coming, the numbers are gonna go up so much faster than they do in person. Also, you know, when you teach in person, people don’t show up. People don’t bring their materials, you know, there’s everything you can imagine. Sometimes you just don’t get paid because they’re like, well, we had to cancel your class. So this was, to me an amazing opportunity, considering what I’d been doing in the past. Like I can create my own classes when I want, where I want, on the topic I want, I don’t have a boss. People around the world are somehow finding this class.

Nikki

5:05
And it eliminated a lot of the issues, it sounds like, from teaching in person.

Laura

5:11
And you did all of this while you were in Thailand?

Liz

5:14
Yeah. Yeah. So we were living in a one room apartment. So as I was like, filming and you know, getting everything ready, I was like, husband out. Table, you know, kitchen table in the middle of a room with the just the sunlight as my lighting. I mean, my first few classes are terrible. I’m not gonna lie.

Nikki

5:36
And are they still up?

Liz

5:38
Oh, don’t, don’t watch them. They, yes.

Laura

5:44
But I bet they did pretty well, considering?

Liz

5:47
No, they didn’t really make me any money. But what they did was they gave me the confidence to be like, Hey, this is a real thing. And you know, the first class, I was like, Oh, it’s a fluke. You know, it’s probably in the algorithm that when you put your first class out, they bump it up to get you addicted. You know, I’ve worked at like tech companies, so I kind of know a little bit about the background of like, how they get these algorithms going, and how they reward newbies. And so I was thinking, Oh, this is just a fluke. But then the second class did pretty well. And people went back and watch the first one. And I was like, Oh, this is a cycle. You know, this is like, you get someone with a class and then you cycle them back to the older ones. And before you know it, you know, if you have 20-30 classes, you have like, kind of a steady system going,

Laura

6:37
And what was your second class about?

Liz

6:40
Same. I always do this, I start out with this big thing. And I’m like, I’m gonna teach everything. And then I realized, Oh, you can’t teach everything. And so let’s break it into little parts. So the first class was like Photoshop repeats with watercolors, because I was doing some watercolors at the time. And then the next class was like Photoshop wreaths with watercolors. And was like Photoshop, I don’t even remember, but it was just like versions of the same thing. When I got to number three, the Photoshop class, I discovered the iPad. And I was like, Wow, so you can draw on an iPad, with Apple Pencil anywhere. And it looks lifelike, and you can make brushes. And that’s when it really clicked for me when I was like, this is like, an unlimited amount of topics that I could teach. I mean, for anyone who has a creative background, you know, like, if you got let loose in an art supply store, you just like, Ah, so this is like that, because you have any colors, any media, you know, of course, it’s all digital, but you can get so many different effects on this one little device.

Laura

7:51
Yeah, it’s like I joke about it, because I have a studio full of let’s be clear, thousands of dollars worth of art supplies.

Liz

7:58
All of the art supplies.

Liz

8:00
Oh, I know, I have the same problem.

Laura

8:03
And I probably spend 80% of my time on the iPad. Because it’s so addictive. And they make all these incredible brushes.

Nikki

8:11
You have all the different materials right in that one little device.

Laura

8:15
And you don’t have to clean up after, I mean how cool is that?

Liz

8:17
Yeah. Oh my gosh, and I can totally appreciate that because I started out in clay. I was a potter. So I was just constantly cleaning up messes. And after I got like a bachelors and a masters in ceramics, thinking I’m going to be a sculptor, and I’m going to teach and then I was like, I hate clay. I hate cleaning up.

Nikki

8:40
This stuff’s messy.

Liz

8:42
Yeah. Did you know how messy it was? I think I missed that. Anyway, so I just like dropped it and, and the iPad was just refreshing because it was like, I have all these ideas. And I go through materials like a maniac for some reason. I’m just like, if I buy watercolor paper, it’s gone in like an hour because I was like…you know, so with the iPad, like, I just do like canvas after canvas and like trash one and okay, next one. And that’s just how I work. And so for me, it works really well. If I buy an expensive pad of watercolor, I’m like, I need to save it for that moment. You know, and that moment is never gonna come because you’re like afraid to mess up the paper and…

Nikki

9:27
Right, we treat it as such a precious thing. But on the iPad, you have unlimited amounts of paper.

Liz

9:33
Yeah, exactly.

Laura

9:35
It’s kind of like when digital cameras became a thing. And before that there were film cameras and you were trying to be really precious about taking photos. I’m old enough that I remember this, Nikki probably does too.

Liz

9:45
Oh I remember Yeah, I failed photography class because I dropped my photography out of my locker and all the film went everywhere and I was like, I hate photography.

Laura

9:57
Well I’m glad you found something you love and that you’re sharing your love of that with us, because I absolutely love the iPad and I’ve really enjoyed your classes. And what I thought has been really cool is that not only do you teach Procreate, which is something that a lot of teachers on Skillshare teach, you also do Affinity Designer. And that program I hadn’t heard about until I found your class. And oh my gosh, it is the coolest thing ever.

Liz

10:25
Yeah, it really is.

Laura

10:27
Like, I think Nikki, you’ve even dabbled in that class, right?

Nikki

10:30
Oh, yeah. I actually, I had heard of Affinity but hadn’t tried it, I’ve been drawing things in procreate, and then doing repeats in Illustrator on my computer. But in doing some research on you, in preparation for this interview, Liz, I fired up, your doing patterns in Affinity class, and I’m only about halfway through it, but first of all, the app is amazing. I love that it’s vector and raster. And I love the way that you set up an artboard so you can see the repeat happening as you’re creating it. That’s just really amazing.

Laura

11:08
Yeah, it’s brilliant for surface designers.

Liz

11:11
And I used to make all my repeats in Photoshop or Illustrator. And now I just I don’t want to sit down at my computer when I could like, be doing it with my stylus and moving it around with my hand, you know? It just makes so much more sense to me, as someone who’s always made art with my hands, to do it with my hands, instead of like, clicking on a mouse or using my trackpad? Like, that’s just never worked well, for me.

Nikki

11:38
Well, yeah, I mean, I used to always just draw on paper and scan it, and then trace it. And you know, it’s so much easier to use the iPad. But, but let’s talk about your teaching style. Because you are a great teacher, you do such a great job of breaking it down into like, really simple steps so that anybody can follow it, whether they’ve used the app at all or not, because I mean, I was brand new to Affinity and the number of tools that it has is overwhelming. But you do such a great job of breaking it down. Can you talk about how you put classes together like that?

Liz

12:19
Sure, sure. Well, my grandma was a teacher, and she basically raised me, so she, I think, was a big influence for just learning the process of like explaining in a clear way, setting up a project for someone so that they can practice what they learn. So, I think I took that into my education background, and then I started teaching, and I taught for years. And so I went through being a bad teacher for a really long time. I don’t want to pretend that I was always a good teacher, I had, you know, so many memories of blank faces, people sleeping, people bored, people chatting, because they don’t like your class. It’s something that all teachers go through in the beginning, just learning how to get information out of your head and put it down for other people to understand is hard. Because what we know, we think is easy, right? Like Laura knows a lot about audio. So you know, she might look at someone and say, Oh, just turn on your mic and turn off the gain and, you know, split this down. And it’s like, what? It’s hard for all of us to explain what we know. So the way that I do my online classes for me is a lot easier than in person classes. Because I’m never thinking on the fly, I plan everything in advance. So basically, what I do is I plan a project. So I know the end goal that I want my student to get to. So in the class that you’re taking, it would be repeat pattern in Affinity Designer, and I would have that pattern finished. And that would be my end goal. And then I would work backwards and say, if this person just walked in the door and had never seen this app, what are the exact steps they would need to take to get to that point, obviously without stress, so I usually just create a doc and do bullet points. And then I go through each point, one at a time as I’m filming and explain that one point, and then I can move on to the next point. So you know, when you’re teaching in the classroom, you’re just like forgetting stuff, and you get excited and you get in the moment. So honestly, for me, teaching online is so much easier, because I have my notes and I can take my time. You know, I put out these classes. They’re usually like one to two hours. That takes me all day to film because I refilm, I say stuff multiple times. So that’s why I think a lot of people who asked me how do you be a course creator? How do you make good classes? I think a lot of people think I sit down and I’m just like magic. You know, it’s just perfect the first time. But it’s really not, there are so many mistakes in between there and you know, sneezing and blowing your nose and spilling your water. And there’s all those things in between that are clipped out. And so what you’re seeing is like the perfected end process.

Nikki

15:16
Right, same as with the podcast.

Liz

15:19
Right? Exactly.

Laura

15:20
Yeah, absolutely.

Nikki

15:21
Sadly, we’re not perfect every time.

Liz

15:24
Yeah. Well, you know, some of us are, but… Yeah, I know, people always ask me, How do you film for two hours and never make a mistake? And I’m like, no, that’s not at all what I do.

Nikki

15:40
You just don’t see those mistakes.

Laura

15:42
Exactly.

Nikki

15:43
Yeah, it’s interesting. So Laura has done in person and online teaching. And has just gotten started with Skillshare. I’ve only done it in person. So I only have that background to draw on. And, and yeah, the number of things that I just kind of without thinking about it assume people know, or come easy to them, and then have to backtrack. Yeah. So yeah, I mean…

Laura

16:10
And sometimes you think you’re being too basic, like when I put together my first Copic Essentials class on Skillshare, which is my first class. I think it took me three days to film and two weeks to edit. To put it all together. Yeah, I mean, it took forever for the first time. But you do have to break it down. And sometimes I’m like, am I giving people too much information? Like, am I too basic? And are they gonna get bored. But I do think we are starting from a level where we have more information on that topic. And so I do think it’s important to break it down. So going back, so you were in Thailand, you said ,and you had these few Photoshop classes. And then now you have like, what 50 plus almost 60 classes on Skillshare.

Liz

16:55
Yeah, I think that’s right.

Laura

16:56
You must have an insane production schedule, like how did you go from 3 to 60? Like how does that happen?

Liz

17:02
Well, in the beginning, I was doing shorter classes, simpler classes, and doing one like every two to three weeks, then I kind of moved to once a month. And that’s more my… Well, now that I have a baby, it’s more like every other month. But yeah, in the beginning, I just did a ton of classes. And I was keeping them super simple. And I think that’s one big thing that new course creators get hung up on is like, well, I don’t have time to make this mega course. It’s like, why are you making a mega course? You’re not ready to make a mega course. Unless you’ve done all these little courses and you feel really comfortable and confident with your process and you know your audience, I think it’s a waste of time to do a big huge course in the beginning. Which I wish someone had said that to me in the beginning, because I certainly did some of that. But it’s like you would be much better off making 5 to 10 minute tutorials for a year, and building a great audience. And then bam, come out with your awesome mega course.

Nikki

18:09
That’s great advice,

Liz

18:10
You would just have so much more power behind it with the marketing, with your audience, with your style, with your audio and video stuff worked out which we all have to spend time working out in the beginning. So yeah, I think if you can force yourself to start small and build up, then it’s a lot easier. So that’s kind of what I did, to answer your question, I started smaller, a lot of my classes were super simple. Like I have a class, start bullet journaling on your iPad, which is literally just like draw some lines and maybe some little shapes. And you know, color it in. And for you that might be like, Oh, that’s boring, because I do illustration on my iPad and I know all about that. But for someone who just bought their iPad, and has no confidence when it comes to their creative skills, that is like a relief like oh, all you have to do is a few lines, I can do that. Oh, I can draw a little leaf? I can manage that and I’m not going to like screw it up and feel like an idiot at the end. So I think a lot of people think you have to do this big massive course and it has to be, you know, people usually look to their own skill level, they think it has to be good enough for me or someone better than me. But really, we should be looking at the people who are behind us and saying like, how could I help these people who haven’t gotten started yet? Who feel like they can’t do anything in this field and feel totally lack of confidence. How can I get them started, rather than trying to reach my peers?

Laura

19:41
Yeah, I think that’s an important thing that we forget sometimes that people are at that first starting place where we once were and how can we guide them along from where that starting place is, right?

Liz

19:52
Yeah. And there’s so many more of those people because as we all know, a lot of people start things and don’t finish them. So…

Nikki

20:00
No, we’ve never done that.

Liz

20:01
No, never. I don’t have 5000 hobbies, not even close. But I realized that when I was teaching English, there are so many beginners in English and every language, like how many languages do you know like a few words in, you know, but how many like intermediate to advanced, people are there in any topic. So I think if you’re shooting for intermediate to advanced, you’re probably not aiming in the right direction, like beginners are much better place to get started.

Nikki

20:32
That is such great advice.

Laura

20:34
When you were starting out, then you started these courses. At what point did you say, Hey, this is like a full time gig for me. Like, I’m going to focus all of my energy on creating these Skillshare courses.

Liz

20:45
I probably waited way too long. Because basically, I started this whole Skillshare thing while I still had somewhat full time work. I was teaching English as a second language. I basically had like a job doing that online…

Liz

21:03
I had one on one students. And so I had a big group of students. And I also had worked at Spoonflower for two or three years and I was doing freelance marketing for them. So I was still working at Spoonflower as a contractor doing their marketing, marketing tasks, and I had my students, so and then I started the Skillshare thing, and I was like, wow, this Skillshare thing is awesome. But then I have these other two things that I also like, and you know, I love Spoonflower, I love my students, teaching English as a second language. They’re like, some of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with in my life and they’re so grateful. And it was hard to leave those people behind and I kind of did it like I’m taking a break, and I might come back, because I didn’t really know exactly what was gonna happen.

Nikki

21:56
You said that your first class or two, you didn’t really make any money, when did you start actually earning an income on Skillshare that you could really make some traction with?

Liz

22:06
Right? So within, I think three or four months, I was making more than I’d ever made in my life. So I was like, oh, and so in your mind, you’d be like, well, Liz, why wouldn’t you quit your other jobs and just start doing that, obviously. But I just was, I don’t know, I was afraid that it wouldn’t work. No matter how much I made, I was still afraid it wouldn’t work. And my husband kept saying, Is that enough for you to quit your other jobs, honey? Like, I don’t know. And every month as it went up, I was like, wow, maybe I should quit my other jobs. And it was about a year and a half, I think, well, maybe more like a year after I started that I actually quit everything else and said, Okay, 100% to Skillshare.

Nikki

22:53
Did you just feel like, well, this is too good to be true. It can’t possibly last.

Liz

22:58
Exactly. Yeah. And I’ve seen enough of that happen where like a platform rises and falls, or trends change. You know, a lot of my stuff was built very specifically on Skillshare, on the iPad, like, what if apps change? What if devices change? What if a new device, you know, I had those fears?

Nikki

23:23
Well, and they do… they do change, you have to count on them changing. I mean, like, I don’t know, when you recorded the Affinity one that I’m taking, but I’ve noticed just a few little differences in a newer version, like, Oh, this has more settings.

Liz

23:36
Yep. And that’s like the struggle.

Nikki

23:38
Yeah, yeah. But I mean, everything is still totally applicable.

Liz

23:42
Yeah. But I think in the beginning, I thought that those things would be like fatal like… Well, if my classes aren’t updated to the newest version of Procreate, then everyone will hate me, and then I’ll lose all my money, and then I won’t have any job. Wow.

Nikki

23:58
Okay, but we all know that feeling.

Laura

24:00
Yes, we do it. We all will take the slightest little concern to okay, somehow this one little thing is going to end up with us homeless on the street.

Liz

24:11
Yeah, exactly. That’s, of course, going to be my end no matter what I do. Right.

Nikki

24:17
Or moving back in with your parents.

Liz

24:19
Oh no, don’t…

Laura

24:24
Okay, at some point in this process, you had built all of these classes. I assume you moved. Did you move back to the US at some point?

Liz

24:32
We did. Yep.

Laura

24:33
And then you have a baby now.

Liz

24:37
Mm hmm.

Laura

24:37
And Nikki and I both do not have children ourselves, but I am amazed at people who are creative powerhouses and have these amazing, creative businesses that they’ve built like you, Liz, where you’re managing family and you’re managing your creative business. How do you do it?

Liz

24:56
Well, it helps that I built a lot of it up before I had a baby. I’m definitely not still at my previous work level.

Nikki

25:05
Right? And how old is your baby?

Liz

25:07
She’s almost a year. So in the beginning, I thought I can do most of the childcare by myself and keep doing my business and like, it just wasn’t happening. And I’ve just realized more and more that she needs more interaction with other kids. And so she goes to daycare now and just loves it like she had, she goes crazy at daycare, and comes home just like exhausted. And so that is my sacred time, where as soon as she’s gone, I’m like, the entire time, working on my business. And I also just have to prioritize and get rid of a lot of stuff that I used to do that I just don’t have time for anymore. I got an assistant, my marketing and design assistant does a lot of my marketing stuff that I just can’t handle anymore. And she takes on more and more every day, which frees me up more and more. She’s like writing blog posts now. And so I think for me, that was one of the hardest things is letting other people help me, like letting my husband do some stuff with the baby that I thought I had to be the one to do. Let my assistant do some stuff for me, take my baby to daycare and let some people take care of her and play with some other kids. So I think that for me is the hardest is like, I want to do everything but I can’t. So I think everyone goes through that process when they have kids. It’s like, right, what are you going to cut out of your life, because you got to start cutting some fat because it’s not sustainable how it was. So now I focus on one thing at a time, laser focus, and finish that thing and then move on to the next. Whereas before I…

Nikki

26:49
Oh god, teach us how to do that.

Liz

26:52
I mean, you just have no choice. I mean, at this point, I would get nothing done if I was just kind of sampling. So I just laser focus on one thing. And I try, I tend to go these days between like do a class and then do a special project. So

Laura

27:09
Well I know that you actually had a book come out and I have a copy of it. It’s hand lettering in Procreate. How in the world, in the middle of having a child and you know, this intense schedule of classes that you have, how in the world did you write a book in the middle of that?

Liz

27:27
So the thing about most books is that you write them way before they come out. So the book was written way before the baby came. So she wasn’t a factor in that. But it took me like a year from the time that they offered the deal to the time that I finished it to do the book, and I just did a little bit at a time, like half a chapter a month, something like that.

Laura

27:50
And when you say they offered the deal, how did that come to be?

Liz

27:53
So they found my classes on Skillshare. And asked if I wanted…

Laura

27:59
The publisher or?

Liz

28:01
The publisher, yeah, Rocky Nook Publishing asked if I wanted to do some kind of Procreate related book. And I proposed the lettering book because lettering is just, there’s so much content to it, so many different aspects to consider and so many different styles. And so I knew that would be a good topic for a book, and I’d have plenty of material. And I just went for it. It was like one of the hardest things that I ever have done. But it was a good experience.

Laura

28:33
How long did it take to write?

Liz

28:34
Um, I would say like, if I had condensed all the time into one period, it would be about three months full time work. And then my husband did a lot of editing for me. And then of course, the publisher puts the book together, I just send the content and they put it together.

Nikki

28:51
And how is it different putting together a book versus putting together your classes?

Liz

28:57
So book is like just so much more. I mean, it depends. It depends on the kind of book, this specific book had a word requirement, like a certain number of words per chapter, I think it was and then a certain number of words total.

Nikki

29:14
How did they come up with that?

Liz

29:17
I don’t know. But…

Laura

29:18
It probably flows into the page count somehow, you know, in the layout.

Liz

29:22
Yeah. I don’t know exactly why they came to that concept. But so for me, that’s why it took that long, but you could, I mean, you could do a children’s book in a week and self publish. So writing a book is not necessarily going to take a certain amount of time or a certain amount of energy.

Nikki

29:40
Oh, yeah, totally depends what it is.

Liz

29:42
Exactly. Yeah. And I think my next book is going to be more illustrations and a lot less words.

Nikki

29:50
Can you tell us what it is?

Liz

29:52
No, but it’s coming out soon.

Nikki

29:55
Okay.

Liz

29:58
It’s a super, super secret. But if you’re on my mailing list, do you might get an email about it?

Laura

30:04
Ooh, everyone join Liz’s mailing list?

Nikki

30:06
Well, of course we all will.

Laura

30:08
I think it’s a great book, I have it because hand lettering is one of the things I want to get better at and I struggle with quite a bit. And I really love some of the classes you have on hand lettering as well, too. Don’t you have like a vintage 70s vibe one? That’s a really fun class. But just being able to sort of merge illustration with lettering and having… it’s just so in demand for artists now, who are running their own businesses. If you are an illustrator, you need that sort of in your toolkit of things to do. So it’s really nice to have a resource like yours and your classes to be able to do that.

Liz

30:45
Yeah, it’s so true, illustration… I mean, lettering is really popular, but I think combining lettering and illustration is even more like, because it just speaks to everyone. I think a lot of just pure lettering stuff, you’re kind of talking to people who are really into type, really into lettering. Whereas like, if it contains some illustration and some fun lettering, you’re talking to everyone, and they don’t have to be, you know, already type people. They’re just people who like to look at stuff and like, Oh, that’s fun. So yeah, I’m really into that combination right now.

Nikki

31:20
Awesome. So let me ask you, you, you teach on Skillshare, you have one book out and another one in the works. Can you just talk to us about like all the different streams of income that you have and how you balance them all, and…

Liz

31:36
And so I would say that it all started before Skillshare with Spoonflower. So when I worked at Spoonflower, I started a shop. And I would just occasionally put up a design or two. And then when we moved to Thailand, we got my husband and I both got way more serious about adding designs to it. And it ended up being a full time income. So our Spoonflower shop continues to be just a full time income, and we don’t know even touch it anymore. So it’s like, you know, and then we took all those designs and put them on Society6, Red Bubble. I don’t know, he kind of took it over and has done a lot of other things with it now, so I think that’s one good thing for artists to consider is, you know, if you create those print on demand images, and they’re marketable, and they’re working on one platform, why not just put them on all the platforms, because you’ve already done the work, you’ve got the tags, you’ve got the description, you’ve got the title. So that is probably the beginning of our addiction to passive income, where we’re like, we could live anywhere, we could do whatever we want to like, not have a boss and do our own thing. So that was kind of like the gateway drug. And it all started with like, we put up a motorcycle design and made $2 that night, we were like $2! For a motorcycle? Wow!

Nikki

32:13
I’d also love to hear how you get found and how you market those things. Because there’s so many artists using print on demand and so many platforms, and how do you get found?

Liz

33:11
Yeah, I mean, I think now it is a lot more saturated than it was before. But there are a lot of new platforms coming up. I mean, it depends on your work, I think and it depends on the platform, like right, some person’s work is going to do really well on Spoonflower and really poorly on Society6. So I think each person just has to kind of go through and test it. And it’s really just a matter of testing, nobody can look at your designs and say, you’re gonna be a best seller on Spoonflower. You know? It’s like, you just have to put your stuff out there and see what happens. And of course, we all know the tags and the titles and the descriptions are so important for SEO. That’s the only way people find you. I think a lot of people say like, market your own stuff through your channel. But I personally think that’s an uphill battle. Like, if you don’t already have a big audience… 

Nikki

34:04
There’s what I’ve been doing wrong.

Liz

34:07
Yeah, I mean, if you have a big audience, and you have multiple thousand people who love you and will buy your stuff, yeah, go for it, it’s gonna work. But if you’ve got 300 followers, and you’re just posting buy this, buy that, buy that, no, nobody’s gonna follow you. Nobody’s gonna buy it. It’s just poor marketing. So I think the best marketing that you can do in the beginning is make a lot of awesome designs, and make designs that are highly searchable. So you might also look for a hole in the market. For example, when I went to Spoonflower, I was looking at all the designs on the site, and I put a motorcycle up and I was like, huh, why does a motorcycle do so well? Well, look at Spoonflower: flowers, kittens, llamas. What is the trend we’re seeing? It’s girly, it’s feminine. But you put something a little more masculine on a place like that and suddenly, you’re the only game in town for that topic. And every grandma who wants to make a motorcycle quilt for her little grandson is going for your shop. So I think it’s important that you’re searchable, and that you’re going to the market that is on that platform. So you might put yourself in the shoes of the people sitting at their keyboards and typing on a fabric site, who buys the fabric? Grandma, Mom, crafty girls, some men but not a huge number of men. So you’re kind of thinking about Who are these people? What are they going to be putting in the search bar? Who are they making this stuff for?

Laura

35:40
Yeah, why are they buying it? And who are they making products for so that you can create the prints that are going to be perfect for their projects?

Nikki

35:47
And what’s different from what’s already up there?

Liz

35:50
Yeah, exactly.

Nikki

35:51
That’s great advice. That’s fantastic.

Liz

35:53
And I have a class on my process for Society6, I do a similar process for Society6, and I have a class on that where I kind of go through, like, okay, here’s a new design, what do I look at for titles and tags? How do I go to search and figure out how many designs are already in that topic? And what tags should I use based on that? So…

Nikki

36:15
Oh, that’s great.

Liz

36:20
I think there’s a little bit of a science to it. On the other hand, volume is your friend when it comes to print on demand, the more designs you have, the more money you’re going to make. That being said, I’ve seen shops where it’s like 5000 different ways to display a geode. And it’s like, Okay, enough with the geode. You know, like, branch out a little bit.

Laura

36:41
When you when you upload to Spoonflower do you do like 10 colorways of the same pattern?

Liz

36:46
Yeah, not every pattern, but a lot of them. Yeah. Because if I mean, even if you do, though, people are gonna write you and say, well, you put it in sunset orange, you know, and then you have to do another one, but yeah, personally, I do and you just never know. Like, we get the funniest best sellers. It’ll be like pug paws on navy blue – bestseller this month. It’s like, why? I don’t know.

Nikki

37:15
Do you also on Spoonflower, do you do like the same pattern at different scales?

Liz

37:21
Yeah.

Nikki

37:22
Yeah. cuz I’ve had people ask me for, I love this pattern, I want it for a Barbie dress. Can you do it at a really tiny scale?

Liz

37:31
And I don’t know that you can offer all the scales that people are going to want in advance. I think sometimes you do just kind of have to wait for that. But yeah, I try to do like small, medium large. I think like, a bow tie, a napkin and wallpaper, something like that.

Nikki

37:50
Oh, that’s a great way to think of it.

Laura

37:51
So you basically have your your classes on Skillshare. You have your book and another one coming out. You’ve got Spoonflower and different print on demand sites that you’re getting revenue from? Are there any other sources of income that you have?

Liz

38:07
So the big one that I just started is my Course Creator’s Masterclass. So that started this year. And that’s kind of part of my plan to diversify my income. I relied on Skillshare a lot in the beginning, which has been great for me. But I still don’t ever want to have all my eggs in one basket, no matter how much I love that beautiful basket. So I’m working on getting some more stuff on my website. So the Course Creator’s Masterclass is all about how to become a course creator, and just my whole process, like a combination of recorded lessons and live stuff and a Facebook group. So that’s probably the most different thing I’ve ever done compared to everything else I’ve done before this because it’s more passive income based than all the art classes I’ve ever done. But I love it. I love talking to other course creators, and you know, my Skillshare classes, I don’t really get to interact with people. You know, sometimes they’ll upload a project or something, and I can say hi, but it’s different when you’re face to face and having conversations with people. So that’s what I love about this course is I can chat with people, you know, we have a monthly meeting where we just talk over details or do some live coaching. That’s probably my favorite income right now just because it’s so fun.

Laura

39:31
Well, yeah, you’re getting to interact and I can tell you that I am in that class and your your first version of it that you had and it’s amazing. I have taken multiple courses on creating courses from different individuals. And I think yours was the most thorough and the best value of all of them that I’ve taken. So you really take everybody through all the steps from, the outline aspect of creating your course, all of the filming aspects of the course, the editing aspects on at least two different platforms of how you can with different software, how you can edit it. And then all of the marketing aspects, the social media aspects, and you provide just a lot of great information to keep it from being just so overwhelming. And I think that happens a lot with course creators when you’re starting, you just go, oh my gosh, I don’t even know how to put one foot in front of the other. And you break it down into those simple steps with your lovely calming voice that keeps everything like you know, I can do this. Yeah, I’m just gonna do this step and this step. And so I think it’s a fabulous course, so I’m just giving you an advertisement right here on the podcast. I think it’s a great course. But if there’s anything else you want to share about it, but I think it’s fabulous.

Liz

40:54
My favorite thing that I’m adding for this next round is expert interviews.

Nikki

40:59
Nice.

Liz

40:59
So I’m emailing my favorite course creators, like I don’t know how many I’ll be able to add in the future, but for this first round, we have four: Shannon McNab, Audrey Ra, Peggy Dean, and Maja Faber.

Nikki

41:16
We had Shannon on the podcast. She was our very first interview now.

Liz

41:20
Okay, I love Shannon.

Nikki

41:22
She’s fantastic. And she’s also a great teacher.

Liz

41:24
Yeah. And that’s why I chose these people is because they’re teachers that I take their classes, so I know they make awesome classes. So I just I love adding that in, because with anything, I think, the teacher’s perspective is just one perspective. And you need other people’s perspectives in there. So a lot of people will ask me like, how do you do this, when it comes to course creation? How do you do this? It’s like, well, this is how I do it. But if you ask 20 different people, they’re all going to give you a different answer. So you almost just have to find your own way, in some cases, so I love these expert interviews.

Laura

42:02
But there’s usually those nuggets of information you get from different people. And as I mentioned, I’d taken some other courses and with yours, you had some really great shortcuts for Premiere Pro, for example, that I didn’t know about. And I was like, oh, wow, this is something I took a 15 hour course on Premiere Pro on Skillshare and they didn’t even talk about that. I was super excited to learn about something that could make my life easier. So you just never know when you’re going to get that golden nugget of information. But I loved the fact that this course covers the full gamut of the start to the finish and to the marketing and even the aspects of things like Pinterest, or Instagram and creating little advertising videos for your classes, a lot of things that I’m going to implement with the next course that I do, because I just was completing mine when I was starting your course. I kind of wish I had taken, had the opportunity to take your class first. But…

Liz

42:59
Oh you’ll always say that… every new thing you learn, like I always say, Oh, I wish I knew now what I knew about lettering when I wrote my lettering book, but it’s like, you just have to push it to the next thing because you’re just always going to be adding more and more to your repertoire. And then looking back at your old stuff going, Oh, why didn’t I know that then? You know, I can’t look at my old classes. I’m just like, Oh, geez, move on. Yeah, even when you’re saying you’re watching my Affinity class, I’m just like, Oh, no. Like that short time ago, I just, you know, you look at your own your old work and you’re… it’s not good enough. You know, that’s just part of it.

Nikki

43:39
Do you ever go back and redo one that you’re like, Well, this was a great class to have I could do such a better job now do you ever redo any?

Liz

43:49
Not like strictly redo but I’ll do kind of updated versions that are in Procreate 5 and have, you know, honestly, all of my classes are just what I’m interested in at the moment, I’m not gonna pretend that I have like a really serious method for figuring it out. I’m just like, I’m really into this thing right now, so that’s what I’m going to teach a class on. So yeah, sometimes it’s kind of a redo. Like, I have a few different classes that cover like modern floral type things, but it’s always different versions of that, you know, different styles or some other way of approaching it.

Laura

44:26
So have all of your classes and projects that you’ve done, is there one that you’re particularly the most proud of?

Liz

44:32
Um, it’s usually always the last class that I did. So yeah, that’s the way it is like, because that’s my best work is what I just did. But honestly, by the time I film it, and I’m done with it, I’m like, I hate that. I don’t know why, I just I have an issue with hating my own work. But that’s an artist’s like, throughout history… that’s a chronic issue.

Nikki

44:55
Yeah, a lot of us are like that you hate it. When you’re done with it. You love it when you’re getting started. You hate it when you’re done with it. But then you can come back later and look at it and go, yeah, that was good work.

Liz

45:10
Yeah. And I’m glad I did it. And I learned a lot. But now I want to make something better. I mean, that’s the point of it is that it motivates you to like, make the next good thing.

Laura

45:21
So I know that Skillshare classes are available whenever people want to take them. But your Course Creator Masterclass, is that something that people can sign up for any time or is that something that’s only open at certain times of the year.

Liz

45:33
So it’s only open for two weeks, twice a year. And so basically, I have two groups go through, one in January, one in August. And I don’t open it up for registration any other time, because the way the class is laid out, we are going through a six month process together. So we need to start around the same time, doesn’t have to be the exact day, but around the same time, we all need to start this process, and then we go through it together. So the beginning is more about the student learning and consuming information, watching the videos. And then we start integrating live calls. So we can work through some of the things that are coming up. So questions, people want to go deeper on a certain subject, people have a specific question about their courses or the way they approach things. So that’s why it’s only open twice a year, because it really is a process that we go through together and can’t just add people in the middle. So it is opening up for registration July 26 through August 9, 2021. So that will be the chance now for people to get in. And then there will probably be another chance in January or February.

Laura

46:47
We will definitely link to that in the show notes.

Liz

46:49
Awesome.

Laura

46:50
So people can get more information and get on a waitlist for it.

Nikki

46:54
Well, actually, I wanted to ask a little bit more about your multiple income streams. And I know there’s different times when you’re focused more on one than the other. But can you give us just kind of a – not like specific numbers, but sort of maybe percentage of how your income breaks out into you know, like, is it 50% teaching and can you give us an idea of just real vague general idea of the breakdown?

Liz

47:22
It does kind of vary at different times of the year, like Skillshare gets a lot higher around the winter months. So I’d say around that time of year, it’s more like 80 Skillshare, 20 other stuff. Whereas like, middle of the summer Skillshare will go down and I’ll focus more on other projects. So then it’ll be more like 60 teaching, 40 other stuff. So it definitely fluctuates throughout the year, which is why it’s so important for people who work off passive income to have all those different things, because they’re not always going to be the same all year. But that is one of my goals this year is to have my artwork be a higher percentage of my income. So I’m doing a lot more art licensing right now, looking into opportunities for you know, making more books and artwork. So I kind of go through phases where I’m like, really into teaching. And I put a lot of time into that. And then of course I get more income from that. And then I go through a phase where I’m more into my artwork, and I’ll put more time into that. So I think that’s why I want to work for myself because I need that kind of change throughout the year. I never really did well, where it was, like a job was the same all year. Right? Whereas if I can kind of flex and you know, play around with my schedule, I’m a lot happier.

Laura

48:50
And what markets are you licensing in? Do you mind me asking?

Liz

48:52
So sure, I’m pretty open. I mean, I right now have some greeting cards. I do some phone grips, phone cases, it’s random. So I would be open to anything I think, well, not anything.

Laura

49:09
What’s your dream product? If you could have your artwork on anything, what would be your dream product?

Liz

49:14
Um, could maybe be like dishes because I started in ceramics and I have a thing where I like to like complete cycles. And I feel like having patterns on dishes would be the completion of that cycle. You know, getting a master’s in ceramics and then being like, nevermind to coming around to that. You know, thousands of dollars down the trash. It’s fine. No big deal.

Nikki

49:41
Oh, it’s not down the trash. You still learned quite a bit. And yeah, I’m sure that a lot of what you learned you bring to everything that you do. I mean, I’m the same way I went to grad school and studied fibers. And I’m not actually doing any of the things that I studied, but I’ve come to back around to surface design, and you know, selling some stuff on Spoonflower even though when I was in grad school, like I said back when the dinosaurs were making patterns by carving them in stone tablets.

Liz

50:14
You were making those cloths for cavemen in your fibers classes?

Nikki

50:18
Exactly, yes. But ya know, when I was in grad school, I was cutting and taping paper together to make repeat patterns.

Laura

50:28
We’ve come a long way since then.

Nikki

50:29
Yep, we have come a long way. But yeah, I get that about it coming full circle for sure. So I wanted to ask you, back to talking about, about the way different things ebb and flow depending on time of the year, let’s talk about what happened last year with the pandemic and what, if any, effects did that have on your business?

Liz

50:55
So I feel really guilty about this, but it was a great year for me. Because everyone was stuck at home.

Laura

51:03
And your business was already online?

Nikki

51:06
Right, they had more time to take classes.

Liz

51:09
Exactly. And Skillshare was doing all these promotions, giving away free memberships. And everybody was sitting at home looking for something to do, bored, maybe somewhat depressed. And doing creative work is such a great way out of that, you know, when you feel like I’m trapped, I’m depressed, you know, doing some creative work, it’s like going on an exploration in your mind, and you can relax and get so zoned out on that thing that you don’t think about the fact that you’re trapped somewhere, you know, and then you’re like, Oh, I actually feel okay. So yeah, everything went up around that time, including print on demand stuff. Because, you know, what are people doing? Especially fabric? What are people doing? They’re sitting at home sewing, and doing projects.

Nikki

51:57
Also, retail therapy.

Liz

52:01
Yep, so I think a lot of online people experienced the pandemic being great for their businesses. So we donated a lot of money, because we just were feeling like, this isn’t right for us to be doing so great while so many people are suffering. So we have a lot of local things that we donated to, and just, you know, I think it’s now starting to kind of cycle back like people have been stuck inside for so long, and they are so tired of being online and they want to get outside, it’s going back down a little bit more. So I knew that was going to happen as part of the natural cycle. So I think that’s an important thing for creative entrepreneurs to prepare for is like, it’s never going to be stable, steady, it’s always going to be an up and down. The holiday seasons always going to be great. And the summer is always going to get a little low. And that’s, you know, just a natural part of the cycle.

Nikki

52:58
Right.

Laura

53:00
And what is some advice that you would give to people who are just starting out, they want to create courses, for example, they want to create artwork to get licensed. Based on the last tremendous three years that you’ve had, as you’ve built up your business, what are some things that you kind of wish you would have known at the beginning that would really help you today.

Liz

53:21
So definitely the diversify your income piece, even if one thing is doing really well for you. It’s always a good idea to have your feelers out all the time, trying different things, because things change so fast online, you just never know what could just have the bottom come out from under it. So definitely diversifying your income. Also, I think in the beginning, there are a lot of opportunities to do things for other people, people will say, you know, be on my podcast – not that I don’t want to be on your podcast, I love being on your podcast, but I’ve gotten a lot of requests to be on my blog, write a blog post for me, do a tutorial for me, be on my, you know, whatever. All this different stuff. Not that it isn’t a good idea to do those from time to time if you really like the people and the topic and all of that lines up well, of course. But a lot of this stuff is not worth your time.

Nikki

54:25
Be selective.

Liz

54:26
Yes, I in the beginning, I did a lot of like guest blog posts, guest tutorials. And I can tell you from watching my Google Analytics, that didn’t do anything for me and I wasted a lot of time that I could have been building my own thing and I’ve heard other artists and designers talk about this where when you first start out, you have this feeling like if somebody wants to work with me, that means I’m great and it feels good for my ego to you know get whatever, notoriety, you know? Button inn the end, it may not actually do anything for you. So I think things like, you know, self publishing, putting courses on your website instead of other platforms. I mean, I love Skillshare and I’m going to keep putting classes on Skillshare forever until they knock me out of there. But also having your own thing always going, your own mailing list, you know, that is your business, all these other sites that you’re relying on, you know, they run the show, they control the analytics, they control everything, and you’re just a cog in the machine. So just make sure you’ve got your own thing going, because you just never know what could happen.

Laura

55:41
So instead of spending and focusing your energy on getting the most followers on Instagram, you could be focusing your energy on your email list and creating amazing content on your own website and your own platform.

Liz

55:54
Yeah, I think that’s a perfect way to put it, especially the email list versus Instagram, because not only is it safer to have your own email list, it’s more profitable. Those people who are on your email list really like you, really care about you. The people who are on your Instagram, they’re just kind of scanning, they’re just kind of floating around. Not that it isn’t important. I mean, I do Instagram too. But I think a lot of the emphasis on followers and all the social media stuff is, it’s vanity, you know, it makes us feel good. It makes us feel like we’re cool if we have a lot of friends. But the email list is what really usually will convert and get people to go to your products or your whatever you’re you know, selling as a creative.

Nikki

56:40
Actually, you can be sure that the majority of people following you on Instagram, aren’t even going to see your post. But if they’ve chosen to be on your email list, you know that your email is going to show up in their inbox, and you have a much better chance of them actually seeing what you write and what you share.

Liz

56:58
I think so I think if that’s all you have time for is one thing, that would be a good one thing.

Nikki

57:03
That’s good advice.

Laura

57:04
It totally is. So Liz, do you have any additional info you’d like to share with our listeners about course creation, and what might be possible for them.

Liz

57:16
So I started out by telling you that I started as a teacher, and that might might make someone feel like, Well, I didn’t. So I can’t be a teacher. But I think it’s really important to state that anyone could be a teacher. And if you really want to give people information, not just to make the money off your courses, of course, you actually like sharing information, you could definitely be a great teacher. And I think as long as you have a desire to learn and have a desire to teach, and at least you’re going to make an effort to slowly improve your audio and video quality, you could definitely make a lot of money off of courses. I think the number one thing I hear is, well, there’s already a lot of courses out there. There’s already a lot of courses on the topic that I want to teach. But of course, I mean, that will always be the case. But you are what is the unique element in all of this. And if people like you and like your style, they’re going to watch your classes. Not to mention, for anyone who’s on Skillshare, what do you do when you want to learn a topic on Skillshare? You go find all the classes that you like and you save them all and you watch them all. You know, you don’t just say I only like this top teacher and that’s, you know, the only person I’m going to watch. People like seeing different versions and different takes on topics. And there’s always this feeling of getting something new is exciting. Even if there’s 50 floral classes in your queue, if a new one comes out, it’s like Ooh, that’s new, you know? And I mean, I fall victim to it all the time. My favorite teachers come out with classes and I’m like, I know all about how to draw that, but I still want to watch it because I just love that person and I like listening to her talk and I like the way she describes things. So I think for all the people out there who are just thinking I can’t do it, I’m you know, I’m not a good teacher, I don’t know how to teach. Those things all come with time but just getting started, diving in, making some little mini tutorials. That is getting your little foot in the door and eventually you’ll just open that door just walk on in, just struttin’.

Nikki

59:46
Great advice.

Laura

59:47
I love it. I love it. Well, where can our listeners connect with you online Liz?

Liz

59:52
So probably the easiest where everything is all in one place is my website and that’s just my name, lizkohlerbbrown.com, I’m sure you’ll have a link under this. And that’s where I have my iPad art and design classes, links to my book and upcoming book. And the Course Creator’s class and everything is all linked there.

Nikki

1:00:14
Awesome.

Laura

1:00:15
We just want to thank you, Liz, for being on the show and sharing all of your expertise about course creating as well as print on demand and some other really cool things that I didn’t realize you had done.

Liz

1:00:28
Thank you.

Nikki

1:00:29
And you have some super great little tips in there that will be great advice for people. So I think people are gonna love it.

Liz

1:00:36
Thank you. It was fun. I enjoyed talking to you all.

Laura

1:00:41
For today’s Startist Society show notes and links to all things Liz Kohler Brown, go to startistsociety.com/lizkohlerbrown. Today we’ve covered teaching online with Liz, but as a reminder in Episode 25, we talked about teaching live workshops, and we have a great six page checklist resource that you can download from the show notes.

Nikki

1:01:03
And if you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, we’d love for you to leave a five star rating and a review. Reviews help us reach more Startists like you and keep us inspired to continue creating more episodes.

Laura

1:01:14
Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

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